The Wild Forest

You don’t know how deep you are ’til you get pulled back up.”

John Craigie, I Am California

Hope is a strange thing. Hopelessness even more so. They depend so much on our experience of the present, and our expectations about the future. These feelings are so often drawn from what we think we can do, because that allows us to fantasize about what we could do. A future where we can’t do anything is a bleak one, indeed.

For a long time, longer than I can accurately recall, I have felt devoid of hope. When I try to imagine my future I feel suffocated. I see a million cracks spread out in front of me and I can’t make sense of the whole for all the pieces. There are too many of them — too many things that have to get done, too many things to consider, too many requirements and expectations. When I feel so incredibly inept, useless, not-resourced, not present, and drained, how I can expect myself to live up to any of those things? When just existing feels so exhausting, so painful, how can I imagine doing anything else? Any vision of the future collapses under the weight of all those expectations and my belief that I will never meet them. When you have no future it’s hard to have hope, and it’s kind of hard to care about the present in any meaningful way.

I stagnated. I allowed myself to believe that I couldn’t do anything, so I shouldn’t even try. I would only meet with failure and disappointment, so better to just shut down and avoid the inevitable realization that, despite myself and my desires, I could not.

This belief became a part of me — a much bigger part than perhaps I even knew myself. So much so that even the thought of doing something simple, like trying to go for a walk outside, or scheduling a doctor’s appointment, became an insurmountable task. I struggled under the weight of my own beliefs about myself and my perceived ineptitude, all the more pervasive for not being entirely unearned. I felt this way because my resources were depleted. How could I fault myself for that? Yet, perhaps not unsurprisingly, I did.

What was lacking in all of that was forgiveness. To forgive myself for feeling the way I felt. To allow myself moments of weakness. Most of all, to just let it hurt. To accept the profound sense of loss and aimlessness and emptiness that sat on top of my heart like a real, tangible, weight. To embrace the truth that I have no fucking clue what I am doing, but meeting that truth with a smile instead of a scowl. To open instead of closing. To forgive myself for feeling, for being a human-fucking-being.

I have felt something within me shaking loose during these last few weeks. In the midst of a storm of anxiety and fear, I have felt an enclave of resistance push its boundaries out just a little bit farther. I have felt a voice bubbling up out of the safe room I forgot was in there that says, “I see you, and you matter, and you can.” This voice belongs to me, but also to all of the people who love me, who have been trying to remind me of what I already knew. I have been able to feel that place within myself — the heartspace, the wild forest within which resides my most genuine, loving, kind, passionate, furious, wild, vulnerable, gentle, and compassionate self.

For the vast majority of my life I have let myself believe that strength was better than weakness. I believed that appearing to have it all together, that being stoic and unaffected, was the best way to be. There were many experiences in my life that taught me that lesson, and it’s one I have to constantly remember to forget.

Now, an even more important lesson begins to materialize out of the ether. One that says, “Fuck that shit.”


This is not the end nor the beginning of anything. Nothing is solved or fixed or finished. I don’t think it ever will be. But something is happening — something is moving — and that feels like a step on the path to a future. It feels almost like, dare I say it…

hope

forces of nature

Just the other day as I walked down the sidewalk marveling at the pink and orange splendor of the setting sun, I found myself simultaneously thinking about how utterly meaningless life is. What a strange and incredibly human experience — to question the value and meaning of life while simultaneously being moved by the intrinsic beauty of a phenomenon as natural and mundane as a sunset. The absurdity of it is at least mildly amusing.

Lately, the search for meaning often leaves me feeling empty-handed. In days past I often felt the push and pull and swirl of many different forces in my life. Love, anger, joy, grief, excitement, disappointment. In fact, as I read back through some of the writings here, I long for those struggles to inhabit me again. On the one hand, it leaves me feeling a profoundly deep sense of loss. On the other, it is somewhat comforting to have proof that I didn’t always feel so empty. It gives me a modicum of hope that this state is transitory and impermanent, as all things are, no matter how strong the belief that it will last forever.


I squatted in the sand, toes gripping the soft clumps and grains, as thick beads of salt water rolled down my back. The afternoon sun radiated a gentle warmth that soaked my skin and baked my bones. My heart thumped rhythmically within my chest and the sound reverberated in my ears as the thrill of the swim began to ebb away.

Perched there on the edge of the water, I watched the little waves roll onto the shore one after the other. No two waves were exactly the same, but I could sense their rhythm — that they were distinct, yet all emanating from a single source. I could sense the force behind those waves, the power and energy that drove the legions of water forward to break on the sandy beach at my feet.

I thought about how, no matter what happens to me or to us, it won’t matter to these waves. If all human life suddenly vanished in the blink of an eye, they wouldn’t cease their rolling for even a moment. They wouldn’t stop to mourn us. They wouldn’t even notice. The waves are a force both fleeting and ever-present — a contradiction, not unlike us.  


Humans are uniquely and utterly alone, insofar as we know, in their insistence that life must have a meaning. Humans are the only animals that need a reason to live.

Wolves don’t need a deeper meaning or a higher purpose. They don’t need their running or hunting or sleeping to mean anything. Neither does the soaring hawk. Nor the crawling caterpillar. The forces of nature just are. How I envy them.

The ocean’s waves break on the shore – a never-ending display of futility and meaninglessness. Yet it feels divine. It feels holy. It feels like the most important thing in the whole fucking world.  

Sometimes, I feel the weight of humanity pressing down on me like a physical force, like some perverse kind of gravity. I see people going about their daily lives and I despise them, because I think they’re all like me — just pretending not to be miserable. Everything feels like a distraction from that cold, unavoidable truth, that the world has more pain and sadness to offer us than anything else.  

I also love them, because they are me, and I am them.

Sometimes, it ceases to matter. Sometimes, the waves just break, and it doesn’t have to mean anything. Sometimes, I realize in a blinding flash of clarity that the trees don’t care about my little, impermanent problem — so why should I?

Maybe life doesn’t mean anything at all, and maybe that isn’t sad or hopeless, but ultimately the most freeing thing in the world if we can learn to accept it. Maybe it’s okay that none of this means anything.

consciousness

Leaving. Again.

The embrace tightens. Another set of arms wraps around us and the silent tears swell into sobs that shake and convulse us. Tears fall freely down.  

Love is being generated there, in that point in space-time, like a furnace of love. Our energies combine to create fire.  

There is nothing but that moment. The off white walls pull away into the distance. Chairs and tables drop down through the floor. The sounds of traffic fade and die. The tiles on the floor fall slowly away.  

And we burn. We burn together.  

I can feel the sorrow rising up through my chest like an actual physical object pushing its way out of me.  

Catharsis. Sorrow. Sadness. Love.  


Every day I question what it is that I am actually experiencing. Sometimes, in particularly low or painful moments, I Google things, which is something you should never do. I Google things like;

“why I am so tired all the time?”
“will I ever feel okay?”
“I feel like I’m dying.” 

Whatever results I get from such a search, I almost always find myself reading something that describes the symptoms for clinical depression and thinking about how precisely those things align with what I am experiencing. Relief is fleeting, and no matter how reassuring it may be in the moment, it doesn’t prevent future searches discovering the exact same result.

Something, something, river in Egypt.

I also get a reminder that I am not alone, that there are millions of people out there feeling the same things I am feeling. I wish it helped. I wish it didn’t just make me feel worse, like the world is a horrible place and no one should live in it.


It’s this feeling that sits like a weight on my heart. I can feel it right under my solar plexus, an actual physical sensation. Like a gathering storm, it builds and builds, insisting on being felt, on being heard. This feeling that says that life is just too much. Not my life in particular, just life. Comparatively, my life is a good life. I have done a lot and seen a lot and had so many privileges denied to others. Why should I get to be happy while the world suffers?

The feeling hangs in the background at every moment, so that even when I’m feeling good it’s like I’m just watching a film of my life, the truth waiting there patiently for the credits to roll. I look around and I see nothing but exploitation, ignorance, privilege, waste, consumption, fear, hatred, and suffering. Those moments where true love burns brightly feel so small in comparison to all of that. I look back at some of my very own writings and I see hope. I see acceptance of these truths. I see someone who wants to be challenged, who wants to be open and accepting of life, someone who thrives in the contradiction that is life. I see that person and I can’t help but wonder where he went and what happened to him. I miss him so, so much.

I haven’t even the faintest idea of how to begin to get over such a thing. I can’t change the way the world works. I can’t change anything but the way I relate to the world, and right now I can’t find a way that doesn’t just feel like pure disgust and impotence to do anything about it.

That truth just sinks into my bones and won’t let go. 


The human mind is an incredible machine. Its combination of waves are just complex enough for us to develop a sense of self. It allows us to be aware — aware that we are alive. Awareness is fucking painful. The trite platitude that ignorance is bliss doesn’t even begin to cover the depth and breadth of this truth. This simple awareness causes us so much pain. A search for meaning, for a story to tell, a narrative — this is what our brains are programmed to do. There are parts of our brain whose specific function is to take all of the experiences that we collect in a given day and weave them into a coherent narrative about who we are. Narcissism is our default mode. Our desperate clinging to this identity which is really just a collection of brainwaves and electrical signals causes us to experience the psychic pain of living.

That feeling under the solar plexus, that emptiness or energy or discomfort, is a feeling that every human shares. It is the feeling that something is missing or wrong. It is the mind trying to contemplate and make meaning of its very own existence. What a terrible and wonderful thing. We search for something to fill that space, to take that feeling away. We fill it with drugs, sex, alcohol, family, cars, money, sports, and all the other things that we engage in beyond the simple act of survival. Nothing will ever quite fit it or fill it.

The truth is that this feeling isn’t new. It is probably something I have felt my entire life, that everyone has felt since humans were capable of feeling and contemplating those feelings. I think that acceptance isn’t about ridding yourself of this feeling. It’s about what you do when you feel it.

And sometimes, when I am very lucky, love burns brightly in that empty space, and it doesn’t matter anymore whether or not it is filled.

“Well, once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.”

Dystopia

If we were living in a future dystopia, would we even know it? Are we already living inside of a story that could have been written by a science fiction author 50 years ago? We like to imagine our dystopias as war-torn wastelands or totalitarian police states, but most likely there will not be any easily-discernible point when a 0 becomes a 1 where we can look back and say, “Yup, there it is. That’s when we became a dystopia.”

It’s all relative, right? Maybe this is just my dystopia.


Towering spires reach towards the azure sky punctuated with undulating clouds. A dark figure readies themselves and walks down the broken sidewalk in the dark, clenching and unclenching their fists. Sirens swell and then eerily fade, silence ever-elusive. Air hangs oppressive on their shoulders tightened up reflexively, teeth set on edge. They’re not going anywhere. There’s nowhere to go.

A subway car full of zombies. Surging masses of proles packed together in a metal tube to be ferried hither and yon. Anger and frustration bubble up through the cracks, expressed as exclamations and stifled with a glowing screen. Scroll, scroll, scroll, seeing nothing. It lulls them to sleep. Valium administered through the flick of a thumb. The sound of the wheels on rails soothes them into a stupor. There is nothing profound here. Nothing wise or divine. Only a frightful human existence. Not human — undead. They are not dead, but neither do they live. Neon signs flash promises of relief and comfort. Sugar, fat, and salt. Empty your mind and submit. Hollow appeals to a false individuality created to extract a resource — money, labor, or both. Here you will find relief, they say. Here you will find satisfaction. Between and among all the noise and din of the undead is the endless nothing, the unbearable status quo of everything else that has been reduced to background noise. The static is so constant that its volume is forgotten as they enure themselves to its inevitability.

This is the first living and the last dying place of humanity. They say that everything that happens in America happens here first. That’s true, but it cuts both ways. This is where people come to be made undead. A ritual, a ceremony that none know the particulars of, yet everyone is familiar with. You either become one of the undead or you die — there is no living here.

The undead stalk the floors of the concrete jungle wholly convinced not only that they can be reliably counted among the living, but also that this is the only real way to live. Maybe they have forgotten or maybe they never knew. Or maybe they never had a choice.


There is no doubt that I am struggling mightily in this place. I can’t remember the last time in my life that I felt so insecure, so inadequate, so hopeless and disconnected. Maybe never. I see nothing of value here. I try, I really do. I try to let the good things in. I try to feel connected. But when I look around all I see is consumerism, waste, oppression, loneliness, and miserable people. If I could block out these negative thoughts I would, but the effort is taking everything out of me.

I am no longer afraid or ashamed to admit that this place is grinding me down into a person that I don’t recognize anymore, that I don’t like anymore. I can find some meagre amount of solace in being able to admit that, to aver with certainty, “I can’t do it. I give up.”

I have to leave before it’s too late. Before I become one of them, one of the undead — or something worse.

Providential

The last wispy remnants of twilight begin to fade from the August sky. It feels like those nights on our street growing up during those last fading days of summer, the taste of freedom still on our lips, neck deep in the liminal space between the end of summer and the beginning of a new, unknown chapter. The sky is splashed with purple and orange hues that deepen as the sun sinks ever lower. 


I’ve been here in the city just over a year now. I feel myself becoming accustomed to its strangeness. The pacing, the heat, the closeness, the distance.

Blending in becomes easier and easier. I ride the packed subway cars with the same look of annoyed indifference plastered on my face that everyone here seems to wear so well. My bike soars down crowded avenues where humans float everywhere and nowhere like bees in a hive. My feet walk along stone paths woven through immaculately curated green spaces that try to make you forget you live in a jungle of steel, concrete, and glass.

I think I still hate it.  


The first stars wink into existence in the deepest part of the sky’s bowl. The twinkling points of light creep slowly toward the horizon and the tall redwood fence that separates our little residential street from the steep concrete banks of the L.A. River. The feeling in my chest becomes lighter as I run and laugh — so light that it feels as if my feet may lift right off the ground at any moment and send me careening up into that deepening blackness speckled with stars struggling to shine through the haze. Freedom feels infinite and fleeting all at once. A gift I didn’t even know I had.  

Later that night after the last colors fade from the sky I lay in bed, hair still damp from my shower, and let the droning of the fan pushing cool night air in through the window lull me to sleep. The future doesn’t matter. Tomorrow doesn’t matter. Even today doesn’t. Only that moment, only that fleeting feeling of almost being lifted up, up, and away, the fear and excitement of such a prospect mixing together to form something approaching joy.


I can see myself getting used to this place. It sucks you in, in a way. It tires you out to the point of begrudging acceptance, and finding comfort in self-soothing. I think everyone here is asleep, because being awake here hurts so much. Sleep can be such an attractive prospect.

sand

I collect these moments like picking up stones on a beach. “Oh, that’s a nice one,” I say as I bend over to pick it up. I roll it around in the palm of my hand. I hold it up with three fingers to examine the grains and swirls and colors.  

Sometimes, I can catch it as the veneer of reality slides away for a moment. This is one of this moments, I can tell. Most of the time the realization comes later, a familiar pebble peeking out of the sand at my feet.  

I put the stone in my pocket with the others and walk further down the beach. I can’t see the beginning or end of the strand but I know it doesn’t go on forever – not for me, anyway. Will the stones weigh me down in my journey? Will I be able to drop them if they do? Would I even know it? Or will they slowly wear away as a stone under the steady drip of water? The stone may change but it’ll always be the same to me, and that’s all that matters. Correct and incorrect lose all meaning as the memory becomes reality, one that is constantly changing but somehow always the same.

One day I’ll die, and all of those memories will become stones once again. Counted only as stones among the infinite grains of sand, the memories they represent will vanish along with me. As the people I shared them with die, too, there will be nothing left to show that they ever even happened. The universe will not weep. The pale blue dot will continue to careen through the cosmos, unnoticed.  

In spite of this knowledge I still pocket the stones. Even knowing they are meaningless I still carry them with me. Because they mean something to me. Because my matter is complex enough to form a consciousness capable of becoming attached to objects, even of understanding what an object is, and of convincing itself that it has some significance in the eyes of the universe, that there is a story to tell about my life. 

But there isn’t. There is no story. How wonderfully freeing. Drop the storyline and the stone becomes just a stone. After all, how can one grain of sand be more significant than any other? But if I decide that a stone was made just for me, then it was. Laden with meaning, that grain of sand becomes the most important thing in the universe. Two impossible truths, held together by nothing but a conscious mind.

The truths exist independent of my ability to perceive or comprehend them. The connections, the string that binds us together, is always there. The only thing that changes is our ability to perceive it, to feel it, to know it.

river

the running river does not care
it does not care about your pain
your suffering
your joy, your ecstasy

it only flows

it is there to remind us that nothing is meant to last
for even the river will run dry one day
and when it is gone it will not care

the stones will not mourn its passing
the wind will not weep to see it gone
the sun will not cease its shining in protest

it only flowed
and now it does not

but the river has no opinion on such matters

one day you will run dry
you may care
and others may care
and one day that will cease as well

flow like the river
pour like the rain

Samadhi

Some lessons are easy to learn. Others need to be taught over and over and over again. Others still can never truly be learned, only practiced.

Being present is a practice that defies completion. I so often catch myself engaging in distraction and displacement, especially living here. I think about the past…

perfect moments preserved in time as untouchable, intangible things
moments i remember feeling free and unburdened
moments of exquisite beauty, ecstasy, or joy
moments unblemished by annoyance, frustration, or anger, a dull stone polished to a shine, cleansed of its impurities
i think about these moments and i long to return to them or to find them again somewhere else…

I think about the future…

if only…
if only i could change something about myself, about my life
if only i could have that thing
if only i could be in that place instead of this one
if only i could be with that person
if only i could do that instead of this
…then i would be happy
and yet when that eventually becomes this the hollowness remains, the desire for that is so quickly replenished…


It’s so easy to forget that all of those “perfect” moments only ever occurred in the present. While they were happening they didn’t occur in some idealized past or some yearned-for future. They occurred only in the now, until this became that and impermanence reminded us once again of its inevitable truth.

One day, among the buzzing chaos of the city, amidst the swirling eddies of distractions and temptations, I found myself practicing being present in my body through the meeting of breath and movement, the combination of effort and ease, the bringing together of opposites. As I moved through the last asanas and into the final resting pose of every yoga practice I lost myself in samadhi, the abiding mind. It was only then as I lay there basking in the stillness that comes after careful exertion that I realized;

this moment is perfect. all of those moments from the past that i cling to and escape into and all of those potential moments in the future i fantasize and dream about reaching are right here with me in this moment…

The end of suffering doesn’t exist. There is no time that will come when effusive joy, happiness, and contentment are all that is left for me. If some temporary end of suffering does exist, it is not in the future or the past, it is now.

All I can really do is try to be open to learning this lesson each time it comes. All I can really do is continue to practice that which can never be achieved, and to allow those perfect moments to come and to let them go when they are gone.

Something Old

27 July 2018


I see I see I see

    a river

       water flowing

           sunlight splashing on the folds and ripples of the great moving mass of water

    tears falling

        stopped, held, stuck

    curly black hair falling in boiling, broiling rings, shining

A smile, straight white teeth set against parted lips, eyes squinting in a laugh, joy

I feel I feel I feel

Warmth, heat, burning, singeing, fire

 A great blaze roaring

   The flames lick my toes

 I am bound

Ropes, thick cords wrapped tightly around ankles and wrists

Death, cold and calculating, biding time

Alone, in my pain and my struggle

Alienated, even from myself

I don’t know who I am, or what

I cannot see myself clearly anymore

I hear I hear I hear

    the sound of laughter

        turned into pain

  crying, sobbing, grief

  A tearful goodbye in a cold, blue light

         orange

             a window

voices calling my name in a foreign language

    and I, unable to answer

        afraid

A calling. A low thrumming sound

  beckoning me forward

     a beating heart, thumping

An old woman’s voice, thrown into an endless void, seeking purchase and finding none, slipping

I want…

  love

    acceptance

       flowing

          freedom

               free

               free

               free

               free

               free

Freedom from pain that feels so undeserved and so unfair — but who deserves their pain?

To know…what is right and what is wrong

Guidance, a firm hand on my shoulder, someone to rely on

To stop hurting this way

or to somehow accept the way it is

    EMPTINESS, to not feel full to bursting at every moment of every day

The people I love to know and feel it

To be in all the places I have been and will be

To open the door and embrace something impossible

Balance is exhausting. Being alive is exhausting.

The beating heart. The sound and shape of aliveness. The flat line. I feel too alive. Too raw. Like an exposed nerve.

Blood pumping through veins, bone and sinew.

Something broken, something wrong.

     And always the fear

Fear that it is, fear that it isn’t

Fear of never knowing one way or the other

Maybe this is everyone’s struggle. Maybe everyone feels this bad all the time. What a sad possibility

  and yet it makes me feel less alone

Free

“Every situation is a passing memory.” 

Pema Chodron

Oh, to be free…

To be free from need. To be free from expectation. To be able to flow freely. To be free from desire.

To be free from the past, and from the future. To be free from the pull of escapes and soothings, the phones, the -ines, the made-up worlds where goals are clearly defined and always within reach, where things make sense because they were built for a single purpose.

To be free from concrete sidewalks and towers of glass and stone. To be free from gutters soaked by fetid pools of congealing water and trash. To be free from the chains of capitalism, from the grinding gears.

Freedom lies within. Freedom starts in the heart. I already have everything I need to be free, such is my incredible privilege.

So why don’t I feel free?

I have all of these moments stored in my mind — idealized and romanticized moments of incredible and total freedom. Running around the cul-de-sac on a summer night decades ago. Sitting and smoking on a balcony with a future full of possibilities. Cutting through quiet backstreets on my bike as the fallen leaves of autumn fill the air with their scent.

They are perfect. They are unblemished. They are not real. They are a fiction, a wish superimposed on a memory turned into an ideal. So why do they keep coming back?

Why do I so often find myself wishing I were somewhere else? In a place more ideal, somehow different, somehow free. How do I practice letting go of all of those idealized futures and pasts and let myself be free here and now. There is always some kind of excuse. I tell myself I need more time, or I need to do something else first.

Then I try to remember that there’s no better place to start than right where you are. There is no better time to start than right now. And that no matter how far I get from that space, I can always come back to it. It is always here waiting for me. Patiently, without judgement, without need. Free.

WE ALREADY HAVE everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips that we lay on ourselves—the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds—never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.” 

Pema Chodron